The Montgomery County Board of Education voted early today to begin giving information about birth control to eighth graders next year rather than limit it to senior high school students.
The action, following nearly two hours of often vituperative and raucous debate, was characterized by some in the audience as a vote favoring recreational sex for "teeny-boppers" and sin.
"In my view, the proposed contraception curriculum is based on a statistical altar of immorality, and its implementation for eighth graders would sow the seeds not for planned parenthood, but for planned paramours," said Malcolm Lawrence, a long-time opponent of sex education courses.
Lawrence and more than 100 others voiced their opposition to providing the contraception information involving definitions of different methods of birth control as part of a six-week health course. Angry accusations were shouted in response to board members' comments.
The board's vote reversed the position taken last year by the prior school board, dominated by a more conservative majority. That board, whose majority was defeated in the fall elections, decided not to go forward with providing contraception information at the eighth grade level after it was included in a pilot course taught at three junior high schools.
The newly elected board majority last night pointed to the success of the pilot program along with what they saw as a need for more information at an early age about contraception.
A number of board members also questioned the strength of the opposition. Members have received nearly 4,000 letters of opposition, most of them form letters, since May 1, while there have been fewer than 100 letters of support. Board members said they felt that the testimony in support from a number of student, parent and mental health organizations probably was more representative of the community at large than the group who sat illuminated by the lights of television news cameras last night.
"I regret the loss of innocence at such an early age," said board member Odessa Shannon. "But it is not the school board that will be creating that loss. It is society." She and some other board members noted that no child will be allowed to sit in on the birth control section of the course unless he or she is given parental permission.
In a bow to opponents of the instruction, the board voted not to implement it until they review the curriculum intended for the course.
This did not satisfy most in the audience or board members Suzanne Peyser and Marian Greenblatt, who belonged to the former conservative majority. The five other board members voted to support providing the information.
"Why are we teaching the Bible one day and contraception the next?" Peyser asked, referring to an objective that indicates different religious views on contraception should be made available. "Are we teaching them some religion before we teach them to go out and sin?"
Other board members objected to Peyser's characterization. Board member James Cronin remarked: "Some of the rhetoric we are seeing about a two-day unit indicates it will be an incredibly forceful unit . . . that it will cause the downfall of religion, the downfall of the family and almost the collapse of Western civilization."